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rec.pets.dogs: Selecting A Dog FAQ

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Archive-name: dogs-faq/selecting-a-dog
Last-modified: 09 Mar 2001

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This article is Copyright 1997 by the Author(s) listed below. 
It may be freely distributed on the Internet in its entirety without
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It may NOT reside at another website (use links, please) other
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                           Selecting a Dog Breed

   Amy Hendrix.
   Copyright  1996 by Amy Hendrix. Updated 2001 by Cindy Moore.
Table of Contents

     * Introduction
     * Questions to consider
     * Resources
          + Faqs
          + Books
          + Online Breed Resources
          + Shows, clubs, breeders
     * Every dog is an individual

   Whether you're thinking of getting a purebred dog or a mix, you should
   take the time to do some research into dog breeds. If you're thinking
   of a mix, it will make your shelter search much easier if you have in
   mind "something like a lab" or "some kind of terrier." You will know
   more about dogs having gone through the search. And if you think you
   already know what breed you want, you may want to look at some of
   these resources anyway--you may find that the perfect breed is
   something you'd never considered before.
   The Newsgroup rec.pets.dogs.breeds exists to discuss the many breeds
   of dogs out there, and we're glad to offer suggestions when you want
   to choose a breed. You can expect people in the group to take your
   request seriously, and either suggest breeds or point you toward
   resources which may help you choose for yourself. You can -- and
   should -- also expect to hear the negatives as well as the positives
   about a breed. This is not intended to scare you away, but you should
   be really sure the breed you choose is the right one. There are over
   400 breeds of dog in the world, and no one breed is right for
   You can help people advise you effectively if you give some
   information up-front:
Questions to consider when you're looking for a dog

     * What size is right for you?
       Don't just ask for a "good-sized" dog--for some people that means
       25 pounds, for others it means 75. If you can't figure out weights
       that exactly, are you looking for something the size of a Cocker
       Spaniel or a German Shepherd Dog?
     * How much space do you have?
       This is related to the last question, but not really dependent on
       it--it's quite possible to keep a large dog in a small space,
       provided you can give it plenty of opportunities for exercise
       outside the house or apartment. But keep in mind that if your
       house is very small, a Newfoundland may take up all the available
       floor space. On the other hand, some very large breeds are quite
       inactive while their smaller cousins will be constantly on the go.
       That Newf takes up the whole living room rug, but he might just do
       better there than, say, a Jack Russell Terrier, an extremely
       active small dog.
     * How much exercise can you give this dog?
       Some can get by with a short walk, others need to run for hours
       every day. Take an honest look at what you're willing and able to
       do with your dog. Be sure to consider both your schedule and your
       athletic abilities: If you'd like an active dog but your work
       schedule keeps you busy 70 hours a week, don't get an active dog.
       He'd enjoy going for runs with you on weekends but he'd be
       miserable (and probably destructive) during the work week when you
       don't have time to exercise him.
     * Where will the dog live?
       A lot of people feel very strongly that all dogs should live in
       the house, and just about any dog will do well inside if it's
       given enough exercise. If your dog will be spending a lot of time
       outside, you must consider your climate in choosing a breed--some
       cannot tolerate heat, others are equally incapable of being out in
       the cold. If your dog must live outside, be sure that it has
       adequate (enclosed, covered, maybe even heated) shelter, and make
       an extra effort to spend time with your dog. And don't expect your
       big, black, heavily coated Bernese Mountain Dog to live outside in
       the summer sun!
     * How much grooming are you willing to do?
       Are you willing to spend the time required to keep a long soft
       coat free of tangles and mats? How about the money to have a dog
       professionally groomed on a regular basis -- say, every 6 weeks
       for non-shedding breeds which need to be clipped? Even dogs that
       are fairly low-maintenance can go through periods of profuse
       shedding during which their coats need extra attention. And all
       dogs, even hairless ones, need to have their nails, eyes, and ears
       taken care of.
     * What do you plan to do with your dog?
       Do you want a loyal couch potato? A jogging partner? A good
       watchdog? Or do you want to start exploring the many activities
       you can do with your dog--things like obedience, agility, hiking,
       herding, hunting or any of the many others out there? This will
       affect your breed choice because, for example, most toy breeds
       just don't make very good frisbee dogs.
     * What past experience do you have with dogs?
       This question shouldn't be taken to suggest that you shouldn't get
       a dog if you haven't already had one -- everyone has a first dog
       at some point. But there are breeds that are not recommended for
       first-time owners. If you have had dogs before, think about what
       you liked about them -- it can be very useful information, since
       nobody would recommend a Border Collie to someone who had always
       loved the relaxed attitude of Mom and Dad's Basset Hound.
     * If you have children, are you prepared to teach both children and
       dog to co-exist peacefully?
       Children and dogs can make a wonderful mix...or a very bad one.
       You need to spend time training both the dog AND the children to
       treat each other appropriately. A common question is "What breeds
       are good with kids?" The answer is that it depends more on how the
       dog is raised and trained. Supervision -- even for dogs good with
       children is a must. Just because a dog is good with children is
       not licence for children to abuse the dog -- every dog will have
       its breaking point. If you are unsure of your ability to properly
       train young puppies and/or children in this respect, you may want
       to consider waiting until the children are older, or find an adult
       dog known to be good with children and then supervise.
   And if you already have a few breeds in mind, don't forget to think
   about the job they were bred for. There are only a few breeds that
   were originally developed to be pets. Most dogs were originally bred
   to be hunters, herders, guards, or some other job which might be at
   odds with what you expect from a pet. If your garden is very important
   to you, you might not want to get a terrier; almost all of them will
   dig. If you don't have the time to exercise a dog, don't get a
   Dalmatian, any kind of Pointer or retriever, or most Herding breeds --
   all of these dogs were bred to go for miles and miles without tiring,
   and even if there are no coaches to guard, no birds to find, and no
   sheep to fetch, they still crave the exercise and they'll find ways to
   let you know if they aren't getting enough. (My two herding dogs are
   particularly fond of loud late-night wrestling matches on any day when
   they don't get an hour or two of hard exercise. I've learned to make
   sure they get the exercise instead.)

   An ever-increasing number of breed-specific FAQs (including most of
   the breeds mentioned here) is posted in They are a very
   good resource, and they all give the negatives about their breeds and
   not only the positives. They are an excellent place to start
   researching a specific breed, and some of them are better than some
   breed books.
   Even if your favorite breed is not among those FAQs, you should read
   the FAQ entitled "Getting a Dog." It goes into a lot more detail than
   this document can about the steps you should take when you get a new
   dog. Also, depending on whether you want an adult dog or a puppy, you
   should check out the "Your New Dog" and/or "Your New Puppy" FAQs.
   There are lots of breed books out there. Most of them are picture
   books, which offer pictures and some very basic information about the
   breeds, but little else. Here are three books which will give you more
   direction as far as choosing a breed, with more detailed breed
   descriptions including information on temperament, honest discussion
   of the breed's problems, and help in making the decision.
     * Hart, Lynette A. The Perfect Puppy. WH Freeman. 1987. ISBN
       0-7167-1829-4. This covers only about 65 breeds' temperaments, but
       makes a greater effort to be objective than some other sources.
       Lists health defects in particular breeds.
     * Lowell, Michele. Your Purebred Puppy: A Buyer's Guide. Holt and
       Co. 1991. ISBN 0-8050-1892-1. Far more comprehensive than Hart's
       book, with useful warnings about health defects to watch for in
       specific breeds.
     * Tortora, Daniel F. The Right Dog For You. Fireside, Simon &
       Schuster Trade Books. 1983. ISBN 0-671-47247-X. Offers a complex
       decision procedure, with lots of questionnaires to alert you to
       the potential significance of various features of breed behavior
       and physical characteristics.
     * Walkowicz, Chris. The Perfect Match. Howell Book House, 1996. This
       one of the newest books on the subject, and one of the best. The
       breed profiles are thorough, accurate, and up-to-date; for the
       first time, every one of them is based on interviews with breeders
       and rescuers involved in the breed. And unlike most of the other
       books in the field, this one is written with style and a sense of
   Of these books, the Tortora book has the most detailed decision
   procedure -- in it, you work through a series of questionnaires,
   eliminating breeds until you are left with only a few by the end of
   the book. It's in need of a revision, though -- it covers only 123
   breeds recognized by the AKC as of the late '70s. Since that time, the
   working group has split into the working and herding groups, and over
   a dozen new breeds have been recognized -- and that's only in the AKC.
   There are hundreds of non-AKC breeds in the world -- some of them may
   never be seen in the US, but others are very popular and they need to
   be discussed.
   More serious than the fact that Tortora leaves out breeds is the fact
   that his breed profiles are badly out-of-date: Breeds rise and fall in
   popularity amazingly fast, and that can seriously affect the
   temperament seen by the average pet owner. There are breeds that are
   dangerously popular now which were fairly rare 20 years ago, and some
   breeds that were badly damaged by overbreeding then have gone a long
   way toward recovery by now. In 1976, nobody had ever heard of a
   puppy-mill Rottweiler; in 1996, Irish Setters are happy-go-lucky bird
   dogs once again, and the sickly, unstable Setters that Tortora wrote
   about are seen less and less often. Tortora also combines several
   breeds into one profile whether they're truly similar breeds or not,
   and he occasionally uses very dubious readings of the breed standards
   to make up descriptions where he lacks personal experience: "According
   to the standard, Breed X seldom does Y, from which we may infer that
   they sometimes do Y" is hardly an adequate replacement for accurate
   information from people who know the breed well.
   In spite of all the book's faults, I still recommend using Tortora's
   questionnaires to figure out what characteristics you need in a dog,
   especially if you don't have a lot of experience with dogs and you
   really don't know what characteristics you will be able to tolerate.
   But refer to Lowell and/or Walkowicz for a more complete and accurate
   set of breed descriptions.
   In looking at other dog books -- and at information from breed clubs
   and advice from fanciers, for that matter -- look for honest
   information about activity and temperament, not just about sizes,
   coats, and colors.
  Online Breed Resources
   There are some very good resources on the net, as well as some pretty
   poor ones. Unfortunately, the best will only help you when you've
   already narrowed down your list considerably: The Breed FAQs are all
   written by people who know the breed in question and have written
   about it honestly. They can go into much more detail than the one page
   per breed in any of the all-breed dog books. And they generally point
   you toward good sources of breed-specific information.
   Even better are the breed e-mail lists. There are lists devoted to an
   amazing number of breeds, and every one I've been on includes
   breeders, exhibitors, and knowledgeable pet owners who are more than
   willing to talk all day about their dogs -- in fact, that's the
   biggest problem with them. Some of them can be very high-volume. For
   that reason, I don't recommend subscribing to dozens of different
   lists in order to choose a breed, although you may find them helpful
   when you've narrowed your choice down to two or three breeds.
   There are also a growing number of breed-search databases online. When
   I find one that I can honestly recommend, I'll be happy to link to it.
   But I've tried out every one that I've heard about, and as of now they
   all have major problems: one of them recommended a toy poodle when I
   asked for a medium-sized dog to compete in herding trials; another
   seems to be largely based on the premise that active dogs should live
   outside 24 hours a day, which is a very good way to get a bored,
   destructive active dog who learns how to climb fences. Some of these
   machines ask as few as 5 questions, others seem to choose among as few
   as 25 breeds (although they never make it clear up-front how many dogs
   are contained in the database). So here's a challenge to pet-page
   developers: set up a database with hundreds of dog breeds, with
   accurate profiles, and create a search form which asks a large number
   of truly relevant questions, and if it passes my tests, I'll put a
   link to it at the top of this page in big bold letters. Until that
   link is up there, assume that online search forms are a fun toy to
   play with but don't ever buy a dog based on their recommendation until
   you've done a lot more research.
  Dog Shows, Clubs, and Breeders
   Go to a dog show in your area. You can't learn everything about a
   breed when you see it at a show, but it's a good way to get a handle
   on which breed is which, and a good way to meet local breeders if
   you've already chosen a breed.
   If you can't get to a show, try to meet some adult dogs of your breed
   in the flesh -- more than one, if you can find them. Do you know
   someone who has a dog of your new favorite breed? Does a friend of a
   friend have a dog you can meet? Is there a dog park, dog beach, or dog
   run in your area where you could meet some dogs and ask lots of
   questions? Never buy a dog just because you liked its picture in a
   Get in touch with the national breed clubs ("parent club") for the
   breeds you like. They will send you information packets on their
   breed, and they will put you in touch with local clubs and breeders.
   Also, find out if there's an all-breed Kennel Club in your area (the
   AKC can put you in touch) -- it's a good way to meet local breeders
   and their dogs, and to find out about dog activities going on in your
   area. Find out if your local club has a breeder referral service -- if
   they do, the breeders they refer you to will be those who breed
   according to the club's code of ethics.
Once you've found your dog

   Purebred dogs certainly have temperamental as well as physical traits
   that are typical of their breeds. After all, breeds were created for
   specific purposes; keep the dog's original job in mind when you watch
   its behavior, and don't be surprised when your new Malamute loves to
   pull. But you should also remember that every dog is an individual.
   When books or people on a newsgroup say "Sock Retrievers make good
   hunters" or "Carolina Temple Dogs are good watchdogs", they're talking
   about the average for the breed, but any individual in a breed may
   vary widely from that average. Pick your individual dog carefully, and
   don't be afraid to ask the breeder or rescue group or shelter staff
   lots of questions about your individual dog's temperament.
   Whatever breed or mix you choose, remember that no breed is perfect.
   If anyone -- whether it's a book, a breeder, or a poster to a
   newsgroup tells you that an entire breed has no health or temperament
   problems, get a second opinion. All breeds have problems, and someone
   who really cares about the improvement of their breed will be aware of
   them and tell you what they're doing to ameliorate them. Do lots of
   research so you can be prepared to ask about the problems specific to
   your chosen breed, whatever it is. Again, these negatives are not
   meant to scare you away from a breed, but to let you know what to
   expect -- Akitas, for instance, are beautiful, noble, dignified
   animals; but you'd be in for some trouble if you got one without
   knowing that many of them tend toward aggressiveness and therefore
   need a great deal of training and careful handling. This doesn't mean
   that Akitas can't be wonderful pets, but only that you have to be
   prepared to do the work they need and deserve when you get one.
   All dogs should be trained -- the small ones as well as the big ones.
   A puppy kindergarten or basic obedience class will help you socialize
   your dog and teach her basic manners, it will make her a better
   companion, and will help you bond better when you're first getting to
   know each other.
   Don't think that getting a dog with a reputation for being smart will
   get you out of training, either -- highly intelligent dogs usually
   need more training than the others rather than less, since they tend
   to use their fuzzy brains to get themselves in trouble. All dogs
   deserve training and some work to do, but the smartest ones will make
   work for themselves if they aren't given any, usually at the expense
   of your house and yard.
   A steady, well-behaved, housebroken, quiet, loyal dog doesn't come out
   of nowhere, but it can be found in any breed -- if the owner is
   willing to work at developing that relationship.
   Good Luck, Be a Responsible Dog Owner ... and Have Fun with your New
    Selecting A Dog Breed FAQ
    Copyright  1996 by Amy Hendrix
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